How To #5
Pushing with Peng #3: Conditioning
by Mike Sigman
In the last two issues, we saw the same push viewed from two different perspectives. The first view, the one about the "almost-open hinges," was a description of the mechanical basis for the extraordinary strength involved in a correctly done "push." The second view (see last issue) was an approach to the same "push" as analyzed in the traditional Chinese sense it is equally correct, just differing in perspective and content.
The principles of "push" involve peng strength, open and close, relaxation, body unity, etc., and are the same principles in all movements of the internal martial arts. Making all movements conform to these principles leads to a powerful, all-round strength that effects a positive change in our abilities.
Generally speaking, the physical side of progress in the internal martial arts is made by learning and using relaxed peng and body unity. Then, powering all movements with peng, unity, and open/close is practiced. To develop great relaxed power still requires more work than just moderate practice and academic understanding, though.
As a supplement to normal practice, there is a way of viewing the body unity which adds to the already great powers of peng.
If the body is considered to be like a single-celled animal, an amoeba for instance, then peng is the shortest-distance force through the body (the supporting core of the body), and the skin of the body is the expanding and contracting "shell."
In a classical view of our "push" example, the body contracts from the middle out to the finger- and toe-tips while closing, and expands from the middle toward both the ground and the fingertips upon opening. The focal point for the contractile closing is the hui-yin at the perineum, but the muscles of the lower back, the lower abdomen, the exterior obliques are also involved.
This view of the body closing like a sheet being drawn from the perineum gave rise to the old descriptions of training the fascia; however, the fascia have no striations and are incapable of effecting a closing themselves. The fascia, along with skin, muscle tissue, tendons, etc., function as a unit "sheet" and add greatly to the unit effect of "closing" in the internal martial arts.
The other side of "closing" is "opening," which implies an extension of the body. During extension, peng is the controlling force, but it is augmented by the external contractions and stretchings, particularly in the torso, which attend forceful exhalation of breath.
Stretching should receive as much fastidious attention as does closing from the perineum. There is an old Chinese saying that it is stronger to stretch a muscle by half an inch than to increase its diameter by 3 inches.
This awareness and training of the amoeba-like traits are conditioning supplements to learning the use of "internal strength" parameters like peng and body-unity connection. No real time should be devoted to these conditioning aspects until the basics have been perfected. An awareness of the whole picture can be helpful during your training, through.
No real effort should be put into training these aspects. Relax, picturing what is happening, in order to allow the mind to recoordinate the body. High repetition practice and relaxation are crucial to success in the internal martial arts.
Also, as the body "closes" and stores during our "push" example, an awareness of peng through the body, like a wire cage, should be maintained. Feel the complete cage distort and settle into the rear foot during retraction.
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